Tougher drunk driving laws take effect within days

Manitoba's government announced changes to impaired driving laws Wednesday that it says will make them the toughest in the country.

Manitoba's government announced changes to impaired driving laws Wednesday that it says will make them the toughest in the country, including crackdowns on new drivers and people charged in the United States.

Justice Minister Dave Chomiak and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Ron Lemieux announced the changes, which are due to take effect on Saturday.

"This is occurring around the holiday season, where there might be a tendency for people to forget the really important lessons that we've learned in this province the past few years: that it's a crime to drink and drive," Chomiak said Wednesday.

Currently, for the first three years after any beginning driver enrols in the province's graduated licensing program, they are not allowed to drink at all when they'll be driving.

Under this "zero-tolerance" policy, ifthey're caught driving impaired, they face an immediate 24-hour suspension of their licences and must attend a hearing that may impose further penalties. These could include longer licence suspensions or limits on what time of day they can drive or how many passengers they can transport.

Beginning on Saturday, any novice driverswho enrol in the province's graduated licensing program will face thezero blood alcohol content restriction for an additional two years — five in total.

The existing three-year restriction will still apply for novice drivers who earned their licences before Friday.

Novice drivers who not only violate the zero blood alcohol restriction but are also caught with a blood-alcohol content of over .08, or who refuse to provide a breath sample, could face harsher penalties, including a month-longvehicle impoundment orthe possibility of fines or jail time.

As well, as of Friday, if a Manitoba driver is convicted of an impaired driving offence in the United States, the driver will face the same sanctions that would apply when such anoffence is committed in Canada.

In Manitoba, those sanctions include a mandatory driver's licence suspension and demerit points.

The offending driver may also have to have an ignition interlock system installed on their vehicle upon having the licence reinstated.

"We are getting tough on people who want to break the law, who want to drink and drive. It's not going to happen," Lemieux said Wednesday.

Half of highway deaths this yearinvolved alcohol: RCMP

The province says its tough drunk-driving laws are paying off: the most recent statistics show the average number of deaths and injuries related to alcohol is at its lowest rate in four years.

Still, 98 Manitobans have died so far this year in highway accidents— with nearly half of those deaths involving alcohol, according to RCMP statistics.

"It still is remaining our number1 consideration on highways when it comes to Manitobans dying," RCMP Sgt. Wayne Blackmore said Wednesday.